Alex experienced his first seizure when he was just six weeks old. His parents later found out that Alex had a genetic disorder called Tuberous Sclerosis, that causes unregulated growths in the brain. It causes seizures — and autism.
Alex’s autism is so severe that he cannot communicate verbally. For the 11-year-old, that often translates into fits of rage during which Alex causes significant harm to himself. Family videos show Alex struggling to get away from his parents grasp so he can slap and punch himself in the face, or ram his head into a wall. Alex’s parents fitted him with a helmet, and often swaddled him like a baby.
Alex’s father, Jeremy, recalls that Alex first began self-harming at the age of three. “It was indescribable, it was horrifying,” he said of his son’s intense, self-directed rage.
“Alex cannot communicate using words and that leads to behavior that is very frustrating for him and for those caring for him,” said Dr. Colin Roberts, a pediatric neurologist at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
When Alex turned eight, the Echols felt they had no other choice but to send their son to a state-funded group home. “It was like we were throwing him away, like we were giving him to somebody else and saying, ‘Sorry buddy, you’re not part of the family anymore,’” Jeremy tells Fox News, tearing up as he speak of the heart-breaking decision to send his son away. “It was pretty rough.”
Later, the Echols heard of parents using medical marijuana to help their autistic kids. They decided to give it a try, and obtained a medical marijuana card for their son. “When you’ve got no other options, are you honestly gonna say no?” Echols says of their decision.
While they had tried mood-altering drugs, and put Alex in protective gear to keep him safe, the Echols said that nothing really helped their son. Until the marijuana.
After a few months, the Echols noted a dramatic change in their son. “He went from being completely, yelling, screaming, bloodying his face, to within an hour, hour and a half, he would be playing with toys, using his hands,” Jeremy said. “Something that at that time was almost unheard of.”
Although Alex’s group home will not administer the marijuana, the Echols take Alex off-site about three times a week to give Alex his dose — a liquid form of the drug that the boy takes by mouth. Alex is now one of 58 children in Oregon with a medical marijuana card, although his autism did not qualify him for the program. Under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, seizures qualify Alex for the card.
“Alex’s parents are wonderful people,” says Dr. Roberts, Alex’s neurologist. “I certainly am very much with them in my desire to help Alex. All of us want to help Alex.” While he didn’t speak of the controversial marijuana use, Roberts was allegedly unaware of the Echols decision to give their son the drug until Fox News interviewed him on Alex’s treatment. Oregon state law does not require a physician’s approval for obtaining a medical marijuana card.
While the Echols believe that any benefits they see in Alex now will outweigh whatever negative side effects the marijuana might have on him in the future, the American Academy of Pediatrics has established that they are against using medical marijuana in children.
Dr. Sharon Levy, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and chairwoman of the AAP’s committee on substance abuse, maintains that marijuana is “toxic to children’s developing brains.” She also said enough isn’t known about the drug’s long-term effects.
“For us, the long-term side effects that are unknown for something that can’t kill him are a lot better than the long-term side effects of him beating himself bloody,” Echols said. While they do not advocate the use of marijuana for all autistic children, they believe that those who “walk a mile in their shoes may not consider the treatment so extreme.”
The Echols videotaped many of Alex’s fits of rage to prove that the harm to their son was self-inflicted. You can watch the video here to see the difference in Alex that the Echols believe the marijuana makes. Be warned, however, that parts of the video are fairly graphic, as Alex hurts himself in fits of rage.
Do you think that medical marijuana should be permitted for kids?
[Image via Shutterstock]